Pastor, if I’m honest, I don’t have any LDS friends right now.
Time and again, I’ve heard this confession from Utah Christians. They’re usually conscientious disciples who’ve equipped themselves for ministry, pray often for their LDS neighbors, and look for opportunities to share the true gospel. Yet even these exemplary believers find it almost impossible to generate lasting relationships with Latter-day Saints. What’s a born-again Christian to do?
Reader, if I’m honest, it’s never easy.
Let me confess, I don’t have a surefire formula for relational success among Latter-day Saints. As I’ve learned from people who do it well, however, common threads emerge. We’ll outline these best practices with four watchwords: Accept, Respect, Build, and Serve.
Accept – Accept Certain Realities
Accept that multiple forces tug at your friend’s soul.
First, as one would expect, Latter-day Saints are extremely reluctant to disappoint their family, threaten their marriage, or, in some cases, endanger their employment. And, yes, New Testament doctrine can threaten everything just listed above. LDS scripture teaches that anybody who departs from the tenets of Mormonism surrenders the possibility of an eternal family in the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76:28–33). To turn one’s back on LDS doctrine is to spurn one’s LDS parents, spouse, and children for time and eternity.
Jesus says, “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). For many Latter-day Saints, this admonition is impossible. Fortunately, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Second, LDS people have been taught to distrust orthodox doctrine and those who believe it. Although this skepticism was taught far more explicitly in previous generations, Mormonism remains hostile to creedal Christianity (see Joseph Smith – History 1:19).
It was for these so-called abominations and corruptions (doctrines like, “God is a Spirit” or “people are saved by grace apart from works”) that they believe a “Great Apostasy” reigned on the earth for fifteen centuries. Suffice it to say, Latter-day Saints generally have to overcome deep-rooted suspicion before confiding in a born-again Christian.
Last, your LDS friend is almost certainly busy. Piled atop run-of-the-mill life responsibilities, Latter-day Saints are trying to balance the many religious obligations Mormonism places upon them. Most Latter-day Saints simply don’t have the bandwidth for additional relationships, which brings us to our second watchword, Respect.
Respect – Respect LDS Boundaries
It’s incredibly important to respect LDS boundaries. Consider our Lord’s example, who did “not quarrel or cry aloud” (Isaiah 42:2; cf Matthew 12:19). When crowds of fearful unbelievers implored Jesus to leave their region, he honored their request (Mark 5:17-18). When pushed away from a Samaritan town, He simply passed on (Luke 9:51-56). When instructing the Twelve on evangelism, the Word of God told them to move on quickly from rejection (Luke 9:5).
As a rule, I try to turn my conversations with LDS friends to faith as quickly as possible. Some Christians may disagree with this practice, but I find it helpful to make Christ the center of our friendship right away. If my friend withdraws, I don’t push the issue, but I try to keep the relationship cordial while remaining on the lookout for opportunities to make his/her life better. And this brings us to our third watchword, Build.
Build – Build Bridges as Best You Can
Be content with half-built bridges. At any given time, I have a handful of relationships with LDS people that are half-spanned. I’ve gone as far as I can and simply must wait for a willingness from the other side.
The truth is, I don’t know what’s going on in the lives of my LDS friends, what internal struggles they’re battling, or what doubts have eroded their faith. We build bridges into their lives as far as they’ll allow, and then we wait on the Lord to work in the spaces we cannot. One day, seemingly out of the blue, your friend just might close the gap and seek your help. In the meantime, our last point will hasten your bridge’s completion — Serve.
Serve – Serve the Community
The most effective way to make lasting relationships with LDS people is to serve them in some meaningful way. As it happens, community involvement is an excellent way to create these service opportunities.
My best relationships, for example, have come through coaching my children’s athletic teams. Others have had great success through volunteer fire departments, self-defense classes, book clubs, home skills (like canning and sewing), pickleball, race volunteering, and much more. Whatever is of interest to you, find a community outlet and relationships will follow.
But let me say, community service will not simply happen on its own. You must prioritize it to make it happen. Inconveniences will abound, but the payoff is huge.
The careful reader may have noted that I have left out the most important element of them all, which is, of course, prayer (we dedicate an entire post to the topic). Pray that God would open doors, that God would soften hearts, and that God would give sight to the blind. But don’t forget to put feet to those prayers — God uses means. And you might be the means to deliver the message of true salvation to your LDS friend.